Russia ‘looting £500m of steel bound for UK and Europe’

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The Azovstal mill is on the outskirts of the devastated city of Mariupol (AP)
The Azovstal mill is on the outskirts of the devastated city of Mariupol (AP)

Vladimir Putin’s army is “looting” steel worth more than £500 million from Ukraine which was bound for the UK and Europe, it was claimed on Friday.

The metal is being taken to Russia from plants including the Azovstal mill on the outskirts of the devastated city of Mariupol, according to the boss of  Ukraine’s largest steel firm. It is then being sold on to Asia and Africa.

Yuriy Ryzhenkov, chief executive of Metinvest, said Russia had stolen the metal and the company was “documenting” what had been taken.

“What they’re doing with this steel is basically looting,” he told the BBC.

“They’re stealing our products, not only our products, but also some of those products already belong to European customers.

“So we’re documenting as much as possible. We’re preparing the case and we will be going after them with everything we have.”

Azovstal steelworks, which became the last holdout of Ukrainian fighters and civilians during the battle for Mariupol, and its sister plant accounted for 40 per cent of all Ukrainian steel production.

Mr Ryzhenkov said 300 employees and 200 of their relatives were killed in the assault on the Azovstal plant.

The latest allegations came as Russia and Ukraine were expected to sign a deal later on Friday to reopen Black Sea ports for grain exports in a bid to avert an international food crisis, according to the office of the Turkish president.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of grain.

The plan includes Russia agreeing to a truce while shipments move and Turkey inspecting ships to allay Russian fears of weapons smuggling.

The blockade by Russia’s Black Sea fleet has reduced grain supplies to markets around the world and sent prices sky-rocketing since Mr Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

In a late-night video address, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky hinted his country’s Black Sea ports could soon be reopened.

Mr Putin’s military is still maintaining its focus on taking control of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region and artillery is focused on areas around the cities of Kramatorsk and Siversk, the Ministry of Defence said.

Ukrainian forces are seeing off attempts to assault the Vuhlehirsk power plant as the Russians use air defence missiles to strike infrastructure, energy facilities and storage areas.

They have “almost certainly deployed” S-300 and S-400 strategic air defence systems, British defence chiefs added.

The weapons are designed to shoot down aircraft and missiles at long ranges and pose a significant threat to civilians.

“These weapons have relatively small warheads, designed to destroy aircraft,” the MoD said.

“They could pose a significant threat against troops in the open and light buildings but are unlikely to penetrate hardened structures.

“There is a high chance of these weapons missing their intended targets and causing civilian casualties because the missiles are not optimised for this role.”

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